U. of South Carolina CIO says hybrid-cloud data center more flexible, predictable

A hybrid-cloud data center migration underway at the University of South Carolina is expected to yield greater flexibility and more predictable IT costs, the school’s chief information officer told EdScoop.

The 34,000-student campus in Columbia has wanted to get off its current data center since at least 2017, said Doug Foster, the CIO, but it wasn’t until last year that it sought a vendor. Even then, the university struggled to find a company that could meet all the project’s requirements until it finally awarded a contract to a Dallas firm called DartPoints.

Foster said the company will likely complete migrating the institution’s data to a hybrid-cloud data center by the end of the year, bringing a major shift in how the institution uses technology. DartPoints uses “software-defined” storage, a term that refers to a high degree of virtualized infrastructure, a detail Foster called “really important.”

“It’s a flexibility component where we can scale this thing,” he said. “And also, from the perspective of personnel, a lot of data centers require hands-on racking, stacking, moving things, moving applications, doing those kinds of things and we won’t need that kind of work to be done anymore. That can be pretty much automated through software.”

The high level of virtualization also means less disruption for the school. Through the use of a VMware technology called VMotion, the university’s data and apps can be migrated while people continue to use them, without any downtime.

“It’s a very crazy concept,” Foster said. “In the old days that was a massive disruption when you have an outage and you have to back stuff up and move to another machine. Now that can happen in real time while people are actually using it.”

The migration affects a range of the university’s systems, including its high-powered computing clusters used for research, large enterprise applications and hundreds of small systems used by various colleges for tasks like tracking equipment inventory. Foster said this project centers around supporting the university’s enterprise apps — like its student information system and human resources platform — but that they’re still making decisions about how many of the small one-off applications will get left behind.

“It’s a very crazy concept.”

University of South Carolina CIO Doug Foster

In addition to being able to easily scale for capacity, Foster said the upgrade comes with two other major benefits. One is that the vendor is moving the university to a standardized equipment platform, eschewing the practice cobbling together a hodgepodge of hardware collected over various procurements. The other benefit, he said, is that a hybrid-cloud data center will eliminate many of the university’s “big lumpy purchases.”

“We don’t have to do these financial gymnastics where we figure how things will depreciate over time,” he said. “It’s just an operating model for us.”

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